Inverness, Fla. — A convicted sex offender was sentenced Friday to death for kidnapping 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, raping her and burying her alive in his yard.
John Evander Couey looked straight ahead as Circuit Judge Ric Howard told him he should be executed for the 2005 crimes that led to new laws in many states cracking down on convicted sex offenders.
The girl's father, Mark Lunsford, teared up as he listened to the judge read a detailed history of the case for nearly an hour. He hugged relatives after the sentence was read.
Outside court, Lunsford had a message for Couey: "Skip all these appeals. Take your punishment. Stand up and be a man."
The jury that convicted Couey in March recommended 10-2 that he die for his crimes, but the decision was left to Howard.
An attorney for Couey, 49, had argued that he couldn't legally be executed because he is mentally retarded, but Howard brushed aside that claim in a strongly worded ruling earlier this month. Mentally retarded people cannot be executed under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The jury convicted Couey of taking the girl in February 2005 from her bedroom to his nearby trailer, sparking a massive search. The third-grader's body was found about three weeks after she disappeared in a grave in Couey's yard, about 150 yards from her own home.
Couey, already a convicted sex offender when he committed the crime, was arrested in Georgia and confessed to the killing. That confession was thrown out as evidence because Couey did not have an attorney present.